Sometimes it is Greek: Vicissitude

William Wordsworth famously defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.”

In this post “It’s not GREek!” will discuss a new word likely to appear on the GRE.  We aim not only to give you a new word to memorize, but also to provide you with some background and etymological history to help you remember it.  At the end of the post, we will also give you a sentence with a few other new words to add to your flash cards.  By following this weekly series, you should be more prepared than ever to tackle the sentence completion, sentence equivalencies, and reading comprehension questions on test day.

This Week’s Word: Vicissitude

Life is full of vicissitudes, those unexpected challenges which arise during the course of a day. They are changes or unexpected deviations from normalcy. More often than not a vicissitude is associated with a hardship, but it may also refer to a beneficial happenstance; the chief characteristic of a vicissitude is that it is unintentional and simply a result of chance.

Vicissitude finds its etymological origins in the Latin word vicissitudo, which means “change.”

Vicissitude may also generally refer, not to specific troubles resulting from chance, but to the natural mutability that is characteristic of life and man. Coupled with its pleasant cadence and reference to unexpected hardships, this transcendental understanding of vicissitude makes it a favorite subject for writers and poets.

William Wordsworth’s publication Miscellaneous Sonnets includes a sonnet, titled “Surprised by Joy – impatient as the Wind,” with a quintuple introduction featuring an excellent reference to this week’s vocabulary word:

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind

I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom

But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,

That spot which no vicissitude can find?

                                         Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —

Sample Sentence:

Valiantly, Virginia vied to vanquish life’s vacuous vagaries and vicious vicissitudes.

Miss the last “Sometimes it is Greek?” Check it out here. Want more GRE vocabulary? Click here for the free Test Masters GRE vocabulary list with over 2,000 words!


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